The Wehl journey has always been full of challenges, twists and turns and 2020 brought an even bigger challenge to us (and of course to everyone) – “the pandemic”. Start up life seems to be a lot about weathering challenges and storms and this was one of our biggest yet.
The new year – 2020 – began with fresh energy and a new “Wehl Love” feature on the app focused on enhancing community culture, supporting social wehlness and measuring impact. We were excited to start the new decade off right by declaring it to be the decade of wehlness, good and plenty of Wehl L-O-V-E!
It felt like we were beginning to find our groove after a TON of hard work building the platform from scratch – from alpha and beta testing to officially going live and becoming a certified B Corp we were getting things done and making things happen.
We had partnerships with fellow wehlness companies and B corps, some great interviews (a great one with Dr. Axe and Ancient Nutrition and the Canadian success One Degree Organics to name a couple) and continued with our #Wehlchallenges that we had begun in the Fall to enhance community engagement and encourage taking time for self-care and wehlness habits.
In March of 2020, we made great plans to partner with fellow B Corps and celebrate B Corp month. We interviewed Canadian Sustainable Clothing B Corp brands Norden and Tentree on the Wehl blog and partnered with B Corp Encircled for another #Wehlchallenge on the app. We were also in communication with other B Corps and wellness companies to plan upcoming partnerships and get the word out about Wehl. We were beginning to focus on how we can also be a support for employee health and wellness.
It all seemed to be ticking along – in hindsight it was a little like the mysterious feeling of calm before a storm.
And then it came – CRASH…
This strange thing called “COVID-19” started popping up everywhere and taking down our plans one by one. Suddenly, it seemed that every company and everyone started “taking cover” and it became a ghost town as everyone tried to “seek shelter” and figure out what exactly was going on and what to do about it.
All we knew to do was to stay true to our mission – keep inspiring wehlness and spreading good – even when it was hard and unclear how we might need to adapt. We tried our best to continue to have Wehl be a space to support wehlness in a time of considerable stress, uncertainty and upheaval. From stress management tips, to reminders and motivation to keep prioritizing healthy habits for immune system health, we tried to continue to encourage and inspire our members in taking control of what they did have control over – their own personal stress levels and health. We continued to support the benefits of social wehlness virtually for our members which became especially important when social distancing in real-life became the new norm. We also opened up our PRO accounts for free with our “HEALTH4ALL” promo code to focus on coming together during such a difficult period.
Initially we saw an increase in engagement and membership but as time went on it and the pandemic continued it got more difficult to sustain engagement and marketing strategies. Everyone seemed to be just trying to survive and get through the day and even though we were in a health crisis, it felt difficult to get people’s attention and have them try out a new wellness app to support their health. We struggled with resources and also had team member changes as the pandemic was making fluctuations to schedules and family priorities.
We decided to try to “use the lemons to make lemonade” by taking the time to focus internally to continue to refine the product and reposition Wehl for the future (as much as we could speculate on what the future would look like during such unprecedented times). We knew from feedback that our “Search” mechanism needed to be improved so that was a very logical place to start. There is more than meets the eye even to what seems like a straightforward feature like a Search button. We tried to facilitate quick retrieval of high quality information by building in the capabilities to prioritize posts that had been “high-fived” and commented on the most by the community along with posts from Professionals being prioritized in the search results. It has been a great enhancement to Wehl especially as we are now getting such a high-quality library of wellness content built up, much of which is timeless.
In the Fall of 2020, we tried to dig deep into strategizing to find a path forward for Wehl in the future. We paused for some reflection and assessing where we were at. Sometimes with a start-up business things move so fast and there’s so much to be done that you tend to get on “auto-pilot” and barely have time to stop to make sure you’re still on the right path. We looked at the feedback we had received to-date along with our data. We stepped back to examine everything from our mission and vision to our problems to our strengths and our resources. We had to admit we had not managed to achieve the size of community members we had hoped for to date. We knew a big part of our problem, outside of the current “trying times”, was being compared to the large social network platforms as well as the fact that we had purposely not built in addictive features and yet feedback indicated not having these contributed to people forgetting about the app. It seemed that those who rarely or only moderately used the big platforms remembered about Wehl and found it helpful and enjoyable but those who used them often were less drawn to Wehl. It was a struggle for us a little bootstrapped start-up to be compared to venture capital backed, billion dollar apps. We saw many important differences between us but at a quick glance it became clear that our target audience still did not or wasn’t taking the time to see it. It was also tough to realize that for some of our obvious problems to change we would have to compromise on much of our vision, values and goals which would defeat our whole purpose of existence.
We knew we needed to find a new approach and make some big changes to both our app and our business strategy – essentially the classic “startup pivot”. We tried to keep what was working about Wehl and make changes to what wasn’t. We began to focus on becoming a smaller social community and a place where you would feel safer sharing with others. The tradition of having a large volume of members and relying on advertising for revenue was not what we wanted to do nor what seemed feasible in the future. Thus, for this reason and many more we moved to becoming a paid app for members. We wanted to still be very accessible and keep the price low but knew this was the right decision. We kept a free account to encourage people to get a taste of Wehl but as with most apps, we needed to make the bulk of Wehl be paid.
Part of our pivot, involved focusing more on unique-to-wehlness features that would help us continue to distinguish ourselves as well as help us move forward with our mission – to inspire wehlness and support people to make wellness part of their daily lifestyle. We took a leap and decided to add a big feature we had wanted for a long time – a habit tracker. We re-oriented Wehl to have the Habit Tracker be at the core with the social sharing and other features being supportive to it. As social support is at our core, we built in unique features that would allow members to add a “Habit Supporter” to their “Team” for accountability – as accountability for healthy habits is such a big part of wehlness. Members can add a friend, colleague or wellness professional who can see their habits and give encouragements to them. The social focus along with encouraging and supporting members to create holistic habits were just a couple of our unique takes on a habit tracker. Along with our updates to create a new, more comprehensive all-in-one healthy lifestyle app, we worked on changes to our homepage (including a fun, new video sneak peak) and a new How it Works page to support the member experience. From updating all our supporting pages such as our FAQ to our member communication emails, there was much to be done to facilitate our new direction.
And of course, once we got all of our changes made on our testing site, we needed to internally test the new version of the app. It was exciting for our small but mighty team to add habits to our trackers and start tracking them. It was also a lot of fun to see each other’s habits and send encouragements.
Fast forward to December 2021 and the pandemic is still keeping us guessing but we see signs of the stormy waters starting to calm. This month we plan to start testing our new app with our current members to ensure we’ve caught any and all remaining “bugs” – these are the kind of bugs you want to catch as opposed to the ones we have been trying to avoid over the past two years! 😊
As we ride out the remainder of the storm, this quote attributed to the Japanese writer and novelist, Haruki Murakami, resonates:
“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person [company] who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
It’s been a tough couple of years but we know sometimes the best things come out of the hardest times. Onward we go – stronger and better positioned to keep inspiring wehlness and spreading good!
We invite you to join our all-in-one healthy lifestyle app at Wehl.com!